PUERTO MONTT (2011 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women) - There are some very talented players on the USA team at the FIBA U19 World Championship for Women, but when it comes to hitting the big shot, none are better than Kaleena Lewis.
Despite being 0/5 in the first half of their Semi-Final match-up with Brazil, the 17 year old from Anaheim nailed three clutch jump shots to stop an overwhelming third quarter charge from Brazil, showing no sign of nerves or hesitation in the face of a vocal and partisan crowd.
The story was the same the previous night against France in the Quarter-Finals, where Lewis scored all 13 of her points in the second half, on 5/5 shooting, as the USA pegged back a 13-point second quarter deficit to overrun the French and hang on in the final minutes.
Bria Hartley is the star of this USA team, but she knows just how important Lewis is. "Kaleena is a great shooter," Hartley said. "Every time she comes into the game we tell her she should come in and look for her shot. She comes in and she always hits big shots and we make sure we get her the ball."
Lewis provides more than that though, typifying the USA's resolve in the Semi-Finals by flinging herself out of court and into a metal advertising sign to save a loose ball, cutting herself open in the process. It was a team-lifting performance.
Following her team's win over Brazil, Kaleena Lewis spoke to fiba.com about her performance, and the chance on Sunday to add another gold medal to the one from last year's FIBA U17 World Championship for Women.
FIBA: That was quite amazing the way you hurled yourself out of court to try and save that loose ball, did that typify your team's approach to this game?
LEWIS: Coach Rizzotti said we've got to give our all (because) Brazil's going to play with all their heart, and I just tried to put everything I could out there and I ended up throwing myself into the board!
FIBA: Your jump shot is money, have you always been a good shooter?
LEWIS: I used to play the post but ever since the seventh grade I've been a shooter.
FIBA: You don't seem to second guess yourself when you get an open shot, what is your thinking when you are out on the court?
LEWIS: If you're open shoot it. Shoot if you're hot, shoot to get hot. If you're teammates are open, hit the open man.
FIBA: You have hit some big shots these past two games, is that something you pride yourself on?
LEWIS: If I'm the one that can hit the shots for my team at the end - just be the one that gets the spark going, not even the one to be consistently hitting all the shots at the end - just get the team going, I am more than willing to be that person.
Last night was a crazy game too and I tried not to second guess myself, and I tried not to second guess myself tonight. My teammates were right behind me, telling me to keep shooting, they're going to fall, and eventually they fell!
FIBA: What did coach Rizzotti say to the team before the game, what style of play did she want from you?
LEWIS: She just told us that we wanted to play our game. Brazil is an up-tempo team, they want to get in your face, they're great offensive rebounders, and she was telling us 'you guys have got to be just as aggressive - you have to own the offensive boards, you have to own the defensive boards.'
She also said 'you have to play with as much pride as Brazil does', that was the main thing, she told us Brazil has a lot of pride in their country and a lot of pride in their play so we have to match it.
FIBA: What about Ariel Massengale? She was fearless today too, always pushing the ball even when the momentum was against you.
LEWIS: Ariel's an up-tempo point guard, whenever we need her to push the ball there she is. She's able to push the ball and not be out of control at any time, and that's the perfect point guard for us. She did a great job for us tonight.
FIBA: What's going to happen on Sunday night, playing Spain for the gold medal?
LEWIS: Spain's another team that plays with a lot of pride. They've got a lot of confidence right now, they've been beating teams that some people say they've got no business beating.
One thing that we've learned here is that any team can come out and win on any night, and all these teams have a lot of pride in their country and the way they play - it's going to be a good game.
FIBA: So how are liking international basketball?
LEWIS: It's different, but you know what? I'm learning and I love it!